Letter delivered by Patricia Nell Warren
Gay and Lesbian Education Commission, LAUSD
Board meetings are broadcast on KCLS-TV, L.A.
Mr. President, Mr. Superintendent, members of the Board,
I am one of the newest members of the Gay and Lesbian Education Commission. I want to tell the Board about the commission's participation in California's Youth Lobby Day on January 3, and to give you some vital information about gay youth.
First a word about myself. I've been a writer most of my life, and was a Reader's Digest editor for 22 years. After becoming active in LAUSD, as a volunteer teacher at EAGLES Center, I became impressed with the district's array of programs benefiting the safety and welfare of gay youth.
As you know, controversies about gay youth are now generalized all over the country. While I was writing this report yesterday, I went to the online news services and found a typical item. The Providence Journal Bulletin of Rhode Island ran a long article titled, "How Bad Is It for Homosexual Teens?" The paper quoted two findings from the latest federal survey:
"*Gay youths account for 30% of the 5,000 or so people ages 15 to 24 who commit suicide each year.
"*Nearly 30% of gay teens drop out of school because of harassment from other students and teachers."
The article also spoke of the Rhode Island Task Force on Gay and Lesbian Youth. This task force was modeled on similar efforts in Massachusetts, which spurred that state to enact the first-in-the-nation Gay Students Rights Law.
Clearly there is a straight line from policies and attitudes at the school-district level to legislation at the state and federal level. This is how gay-youth advocates in our state came to create the first Youth Lobby Day in California history. Held last Wednesday, Jan. 3, the event was organized by LIFE Lobby, major gay-community lobby in Sacramento, and modeled on the successful lobby in Massachusetts.
Around 300 young people and 50 supporting adults converged on Sacramento. The youths' aim: to talk to their legislators about several bills, notably AB 1001, which adds sexual orientation to the protections guaranteed by California's education code. AB 1001 was introduced by openly lesbian Assembly Member Sheila Kuehl.
From our commission, executive director Kathy Gill, chairman Richard Neely and I accompanied 45 young women and men from L.A on a district-sponsored outing to Youth Lobby Day. We wanted to support Youth Lobby Day because it is so supportive of existing LAUSD policies, and because positive activism is a powerful antidote to the disenfranchisement that is felt so keenly by our youth. Many of our 45 kids have gone through LAUSD programs like Project 10 and EAGLES. With chartered buses and donated plane tickets from LIFE, other young people came from the Central Valley, Bay Area, San Diego, Palm Springs. A fortunate few live with supportive families; others live independently or in shelters, and have gotten back into school on their own initiative. Among the 300 lobbyists were several supportive heterosexual students who started gay-straight alliances in their own high schools.
At the opening briefing at 10 a.m., LIFE lobbyist Ellen McCormick told the young people, "The legislature doesn't believe you exist." She pointed out that it took a full decade for the California legislature to address AIDS issues. Some legislators and school administrators still insist that they know of no homosexual students in their schools.
Further briefing came from Assembly Member Kuehl herself, who likened state government to The Wizard of Oz. Kuehl said: "Remember when Dorothy found out that the Wizard was really a little old man behind a curtain, pushing buttons and turning wheels? Well, the legislature is like that." The young people liked that comparison!
At 11:30 a.m., network news crews filmed our rally on the Capitol steps. After lunch, the young people split into little district groups and visited their legislators' officers. Some, like Assemblymember Villaraigosa and Senator Solis, were welcoming and eager to listen to the young people's stories about problems they encountered in their schools. Other legislators were clearly taken aback by the well-behaved but energetic presence of such a large group of "nonexistent" gay kids in the Capitol building.
Sen. Rob Hurtt, who has advocated reinstating the California sodomy laws, found his office besieged by young lobbyists. Reportedly the Senator was not available for comment.
Unfortunately, that very day, a bi-party struggle resulted in the Republicans gaining control not only over the Assembly Speaker's seat but the Rules Committee as well. "So you can forget about AB 1001 for this session," one Democratic chief of staff told us.
Nevertheless, the young people were inspired by their outing. Beyond the personal empowerments of the day, was the realization that they have a right to be there at the Capitol, and have their say.
On behalf of the Commission, I want the Board to know that their supportive policies are having a positive effect on real lives out there -- young people who do not commit suicide, or drop out of school for good, or die of AIDS. Young people who want to lead creative and positive lives as California citizens. As the controversies continue, the Gay and Lesbian Education Commission hopes that the L.A. Board of Education will stand firm in their concern for the welfare and safety of gay youth.